OhmConnect: Get Paid For Saving Energy One Hour Per Week

ohmlogoOhmConnect is a start-up that works with consumers and their local utilities to lower energy costs and save money together. Before reading any further, it appears that cash payments currently only work with customers of PG&E, SDG&E or Southern California Edison in California.

During times of high electricity demand, customers will get an email or smartphone app notification that it is time for an “#OhmHour”. During that time, customers will reduce their electricity demand by turning off lights and not using their A/C, heater, or other appliances. The utility saves money by avoiding having to turn on their dirty and expensive “peaker plants”. The utility pays OhmConnect, which in turn passes on 80% to you.

In exchange for your OhmHour participation, the customer will get paid cash via PayPal. Supposedly, you can earn up to $300 a year. If you connect any smart home devices like a Nest thermostat or an electric vehicle, you can earn extra bonuses and also automate your participation. OhmConnect participation is free and does not affect your existing utility service.

ohm3

I’ve been a member for a few weeks but it doesn’t seem to be very interesting if you are not an eligible California resident. I wish they would have been more upfront about that. You can rack up some “token”, but it’s not a meaningful activity unless they can track your energy usage reductions. At most, I’d sign up and get an alert if/when they spread to your area.

If you are a California resident and customer of PG&E, SDG&E or Southern California Edison, sign up for OhmConnect here and link your account and get a $5 bonus. Get a $20 bonus after linking accounts + a 1 kilowatt reduction during a single hour within 90 days. Get a $75 bonus if you link, do the 1kW reduction, and participate in 9 out of the last 10 #OhmHour events.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Savings – May 2017

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The WSJ article Bank of America Pays Peanuts for Deposits, but the Money Keeps Flowing In (paywall) outlines how BofA gets away with paying less interest on its deposits than nearly any other US bank (not that the other mega-banks are that much better). BofA only pays an average of 0.08% on $796 billion of cash deposits, including certificates of deposit:

bofa_int450

Keep your savings somewhere else! Even if you have a BofA account for the ATM network, you can avoid fees on their basic checking accounts with either a monthly direct deposit, a minimum balance of $1,500 with no direct deposit, or by keeping $20,000 in stocks/ETFs at Merrill Edge with no direct deposit and no minimum balance. Anything above that can easily earn more interest with a companion account like Ally Bank Savings that now has 1-day transfers between linked accounts.

On that note, here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Rates checked as of 5/11/07.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, the online banks with a history of competitive rates offer online savings accounts clustered around 1% APY. An important feature to note with savings account is that their interest rates can change at any time.

  • As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times and there are no lucrative rates that make it worth taking another risk, I am currently sticking with Ally Bank for their reliably competitive rates and overall good user experience. Their online savings is currently at 1.05% APY.

Money market mutual funds
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been inching upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund.

  • The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund has increased their SEC yield to a half-decent 0.95%. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which only has an SEC yield of 0.69%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.

Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, inheritance). Honestly, I wouldn’t get fancy or take unnecessary risk. Just keep it safe in a short-term CD or online savings account that in insured under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 1.10% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the highest guaranteed 6-month CD rate available.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought through the end of April 2017 now will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-October, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance might be easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month on after-tax benefit). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit
If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. One option is to keep your money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay a reasonable early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you could create a CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Connexus Credit Union is offering a 1-year Share Certificate at 1.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.00% APY. Both have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.
  • Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 4-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (180-day early withdrawal penalty) if you also have Premier Checking (no monthly fee if you keep $6,000 in total balances or $2,000 in checking). HFCU also offer a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” still offer the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year non-callable CD that pays 2.75% APY. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary daily.
  • How about two decades!? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). You could view as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 5/11/17.

PSA: Cuisinart Recalls 8 Million Food Processor Blades

bladerecallIn case you missed it during the holiday rush, Cuisinart has issued a recall of over 8 million food processor blades in the US and Canada. This covers a huge chunk of their machines sold in the last 20 years, including the one in my kitchen. The riveted blades can crack over time and leave small metal pieces in your food (yikes!).

This recall involves the riveted blades in Cuisinart food processors with model numbers that begin with the following: CFP-9, CFP-11, DFP-7, DFP-11, DFP-14, DLC-5, DLC-7, DLC-8, DLC-10, DLC-XP, DLC-2007, DLC-2009, DLC-2011, DLC-2014, DLC-3011, DLC-3014, EV-7, EV-10, EV-11, EV-14, KFP-7 and MP-14. The model number is located on the bottom of the food processor. The blades have four rivets and are silver-colored stainless steel and have a beige plastic center hub. Only food processors with four rivets in the blades are included in this recall. Cuisinart is printed on the front and on the bottom of the food processors.

Cuisinart will send you a free replacement blade if you contact them through their website at recall.cuisinart.com or call them at 877-339-2534 from 7am to 11pm ET Monday through Friday and from 9am to 5pm ET Saturday and Sunday. They have not offered anything further such as partial refunds or reimbursements.

I submitted my information online and received a confirmation e-mail. They were very vague with how long it would take to send the new blades.

Thank you so much for registering to receive your free Cuisinart replacement blade. Our blades are fabricated using precise manufacturing processes, which of course means, that they take some time to produce. We are producing new blades as rapidly as possible to meet the demand resulting from this replacement program.

When your blade is about to be shipped, we will send you an email so you can anticipate when it will arrive to the address you indicated on your replacement blade registration. In the meantime, you are able to use all other cutting implements and accessories that may have come with your Cuisinart food processor.

Vanguard Managed Account Program (VMAP) Review – Cost vs. Benefits

savebuttonbankVanguard is the one of the biggest providers of defined contribution (DC) plans like 401(k) and 403(b) plans, with more than 3.9 million participants. An optional service they provide for these DC plans is managed account advice, where you pay them an asset-based fee and you cede all portfolio control to them. Vanguard Managed Account Program (VMAP) serves as a fiduciary that sets asset allocations, chooses investments, and monitors/rebalances portfolios on a continuing basis. Fees typically begin at 0.40% on the first $100,000 in assets under management.

Vanguard published a research paper on the before-and-after results from actual participants called The value of managed account advice [pdf].

Even if you aren’t considering paying for such a service, I figured there would be some worthwhile takeaways from their results. Here are my condensed notes from reading their paper.

Reallocation of company stock. About 12% of participants initially had a concentrated position of 20% or more in employer stock. Holding too much stock in your employer is generally understood to be too risky, so VMAP fixes that. The average allocation to company stock fell from 46% to 4% as a result of managed account advice. This group was probably impacted the most by professional advice.

Personalized advice. Not only do you simply indicate an expected retirement age and desired level of risk, but you can add outside assets to the overall asset allocation evaluation. 35% of all VMAP participants personalized the service in some manner.

Forcing you to make savings rate decision. When you sit down and start this service, you have to talk about your goals and see some projected numbers. Then you must make a decision as to your savings rate. Overall, people saved more once faced with this situation. Specifically, 1/3rd of participants increased their savings rates, 7% decreased them, and the remaining majority maintained contribution rates at the same level. See chart below:

vmap_savings

More appropriate asset allocation. In terms of asset allocation, VMAP made things more appropriate and efficient in relation to the need and ability to take risk. Some people got more equity exposure, some people got less. On average, people were told to hold less employer stock, less cash, and more international stocks. See chart below:

vmap_aa

Net effect on retirement wealth. Let see. On average, VMAP participants saved more money. On average, expected returns on VMAP-advised portfolio rose. On average, expense ratios on VMAP-advised portfolio were reduced by 0.06%. But everyone also paid advisory fees. What happens when you take all the factors together? In their own words:

To summarize the interplay of these effects, we used the change in participants’ projected ten-year real retirement wealth as a benchmark for evaluating advice. This allowed us to observe the true effect of managed accounts, independent of the participant’s starting account balance or asset allocation.

On average, managed account participants experienced a relative increase of 15% in projected retirement wealth over 10 years. I’m a little disappointed in “projected” wealth increase vs. actual wealth increase, but I think that’s the best they could do with their limited data set. In order to better see how this works, they broke things into ten equal groups, or deciles, based on the change in retirement wealth. This chart includes the 88% of participants that didn’t have a huge chunk of company stock to start with.

vmap_deciles

As you can see, the bottom decile is mostly affected by the fact that they simply chose to save less money (lower annual contribution rate) and they lowered their stock exposure (lower expected real return). I can only guess that these folks needed to lower their risk levels to a more appropriate level. The top decile both chose to save more money and increased their stock exposure.

Summary. Each of the factors listed above could all be converted to standard advice, i.e. “Things an Investor Should Do”. You should make sure not to hold too much company stock. You should assess your situation, and increase your savings rate if needed. You should make sure your asset allocation is appropriate for your age and risk requirements. Yes, a DIY investor could certainly do these things for themselves. But have you? Will you?

This part is purely my opinion, but how about a general rule, if you haven’t done these things in the last 3 years, perhaps paying for advice may just be worth it? For example, if you’re holding more than 30% of your portfolio in company stock, and haven’t gotten rid of it in the last 3 years, maybe you need someone to do it for you.

Chase Premier Checking Review: $300 Bonus Promo

Chase Bank has a new $300 bonus for their new Premier Checking account. This is a separate bonus in addition to their Chase Total Checking $150 + Chase Savings $100 bonuses. Although the bonus for this product is higher, it comes with both higher fees and more features, so it won’t work out to be better for everyone.

Rules of the $300 bonus promotion:

  • Open a new Chase Premier Plus Checking Account
  • Deposit $25 or more at account opening
  • Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Chase states that your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government.

Offer not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. You can only receive one new checking account-related bonus per calendar year. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT. If the checking account is closed by the customer or Chase within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount at closing.

Premier Checking offers these additional features above Total Checking:

  • Get $300 when you open a new CHASE PREMIER PLUS CHECKINGSM account and set up direct deposit
  • Access 15,500 Chase ATMs and 5,400 branches
  • EXPLORE MORE OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU: with the convenience and ease of a Chase Premier Plus CheckingSM account
  • Chase QuickDepositSM lets you deposit checks almost anytime, anywhere with the ease of taking a picture. Just point, snap, and deposit.
  • Chase QuickPaySM lets you pay people without cash or checks. Use it to send money to virtually anyone who has an email address or mobile number.
  • Earns interest
  • No Chase fee on first four non-Chase ATM transactions

To avoid the $25 monthly service fee for Premier Checking, you must do at least one of the following:

  • Keep an average daily balance of $15,000 or more in any combination of qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances; OR,
  • Have automatic payments to your qualifying linked Chase mortgage from your Chase account. Payments set up through Online Bill Pay do not qualify. Mortgages must be in good standing and be first mortgages with servicing retained by Chase.

The additional features of the Premier checking aren’t really worth very much due to the low interest rates offered. Maybe the ATM fee waivers are worth something, but that depends on the person. I would only consider this bonus if you can waive that $25 monthly fee as noted above (ideally, you already have a Chase mortgage). Otherwise, the incrementally higher $300 bonus would be offset by the service fees. In that case, I would look into the Chase Total Checking + Savings package instead.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Berkshire Hathaway Official Reading List 2015: Approved Books by Buffett and Munger

tapdaceAmong the many booths at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2015 Annual Meeting was one run by a local bookstore. Each year, BRK approves a list of books, many of which have been mentioned in shareholder letters or other speeches by Warren Buffett and/or Charlie Munger. I always see media articles referring to this list (ex. 11 Picks from Warren Buffett’s Bookshelf), but here is the entire official list from The Bookworm.

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.” – Warren Buffett

Besides the well-known Buffett biographies and classic investing books, it still manages to include several investing books I’d never heard of before, as well as some intriguing non-investing books by Buffett’s siblings and children. There is even a comic book and a separate section for kids. Here’s the Amazon-linkified list, sorted by category in alphabetical order.

About Warren Buffett

About Charlie Munger

On Investing

General Interest

Family and Children’s Interests

Big Picture Financial Advice from Jonathan Clements

clementsbookHere is some “big picture” financial advice from author and columnist Jonathan Clements. I’d like to collect enough of these tips from notable people and make a compilation post.

Clements recently wrote his last column “How to Live a Happier Financial Life” for the Wall Street Journal Sunday (which is ending publication), but he’ll still be writing for the main Wall Street Journal (on Saturdays). I’ll just paraphrase the bullet points below; read the full article for the details.

  • The biggest waste of time is commuting.
  • The best investment attribute to have is humility.
  • The biggest key to financial success is cheap housing.
  • The best way to spend money is to buy experiences.
  • Your top financial goal should be to have the ability to do fulfilling work, as opposed to working solely for a paycheck.

I guess he’s a sentimental guy because he also wrote a “last column” called “Parting Shot: What I Learned From Writing 1,008 Columns” in 2008 when he left the Wall Street Journal to join Citigroup (before coming back). Highlights below; read full article for details.

The question – What is the reason for all this saving and investing?

  • If you have money, you’ll worry less about it.
  • Money can give you the freedom to pursue your passions.
  • Money can buy you time with friends and family.

I checked and both articles weren’t behind a paywall at the time of writing, but that may change in the future.

Season’s Greetings!

fam2014a

Thank you very much for reading My Money Blog this year. It’s now been over 10 years… where has the time gone! I still look forward to learning and sharing something new every day. Here’s hoping that you are happy, healthy, and moving ever closer toward your goals.

Remember that you can follow updates via RSS feed, daily e-mail subscription, following me on Twitter, or liking my Facebook page.

TradeKing Black Friday $50 Promo

TradeKing has a $50 bonus promotion for Black Friday weekend. More details via banner below. Use promo code BF50. You must open with $3,000 and make 3 trades. Offer expires on December 1st, 2014 at midnight.

New Site Design

Just a quick note that I finally updated this site’s design after many, many years. The primary goal of this redesign was to improve usability and readability across modern computer screens, which now span from 30″ widescreen monsters to 3.5″ smartphones. I’m also trying to improve navigation so that readers can easily find the more timeless posts amidst the many other time-sensitive posts. I still have a lot of work to do by going through my archives and cleaning things up.

Please let me know if anything is broken or just what you think of it. Thanks!

MyMoneyBlog.com Interview with Mint

Money management website Mint.com recently did a brief interview with me, although we did cover a variety of topics. Here’s the link:

Personal Finance Interview with Jonathan Ping on Money Management

Sick Leave

I’ve been getting my butt kicked by a bout of food poisoning, so posting will be light this week. Fever, chills, sweats, and I haven’t been able to keep down any solid food in over 48 hours. Blech.